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Illustration by Bill Cawthon. Photo of person © Vadymvdrobot used under license from Dreamstime.com

Congratulations, you have joined the more than 100 million other Americans who own guns.

Yours is one of the estimated 9.9 million handguns that have been sold this year. Between COVID-19 and concerns about police response and civil unrest, as well as soaring violence, more handguns have were sold in the first nine months of 2020 than in the entire first four years of the 21st Century.

You not only bought a handgun, you bought a handgun with a standard-capacity magazine that holds 17 or 18 rounds, depending on if you count the one in the chamber. That’s what the “17+1” means in gun specifications.

Once you get over your existential angst, you will need to face up to the same realities as everyone else: you need to learn to operate the gun; to handle it safely; to shoot the gun accurately; to clean the gun; and how to store it safely while having it rapidly available if it is needed.

You need to learn the four basic rules of gun safety and to always follow them. Virtually all accidental discharges and the resulting injuries and deaths are caused by violating these rules.

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A gun is an assembly of metal, polymers, and sometimes wood that is designed to use a combination of mechanical and chemical actions to expel a projectile in a controlled fashion. Any purpose beyond that depends on the person using the gun.

A gun is not magic; a gun is not some evil demon; a gun is an object with no volition of its own. You can leave a fully loaded firearm on a table and when your grandchildren are adults it will still be there, sitting on the table, unfired. If somebody picked it up, it would probably still work just fine. Firearms last a long time.

For some very good information on safety, visit Project ChildSafe. Project ChildSafe is the best resource for this information. None of the gun control groups, including those with “safety” in their names, have anything like Project ChildSafe which has been in operation since 1999.

The very best thing you can do to really take command of the situation is to take at least two courses of instruction:

  1. Basic gun handling and safety including range etiquette, proper stance, and other best practices. You can pick up some of this from videos but the structure of a class is better. Videos can come later.

You will need to have hearing protection and eye protection. Since you have a semiautomatic pistol, you and everyone in your shooting party (such as your spouse) should wear high-necked shirts or blouses. This is especially true for women because spent shell casings are hot and they seem to have an affinity for cleavage. This isn’t sexism, it’s Murphy’s Law in action.

Budget for at least 500 rounds of full-metal jacket ammunition. This is enough to be sufficiently familiar with your gun and shooting to depend on the gun for defensive uses. Do not be one of the people who buy a gun and a box of ammunition and think they are prepared. They are not only accidents looking for a place to happen, they are likely to be the losers in a confrontation in which there are no second-place winners, to quote Bill Jordan.

There are two places for a defensive firearm: unloaded in a secure storage device and loaded on your person or within arm’s reach. You must be in complete control of your firearm at all times. Michigan is an open-carry state which means you do not need a state permit to carry a handgun openly, i.e., visible to other people. Based on the confrontations you have described, simply leaving the gun in the locked storage is no different than leaving it in the store.

One of the best things you can do for your own peace of mind and the safety of your family is to learn de-escalation techniques. If you have a belligerent neighbor, especially one who threatens you, your family, or your pets or livestock, report any confrontations to your local police or county sheriff. Brandishing is a criminal offense in Michigan and threats of lethal force are considered to be assault, which is also a criminal offense.

You have every right to be secure in your home and on your property and no one other than a sworn law enforcement officer in the performance of their legal duties has the right to bring a firearm onto your property without your permission. Michigan has both Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws so you are covered there.

At this point, I want to share something with you, based on more than 50 years of gun ownership and stints in law enforcement. In your situation, and considering that this may be the only gun your ever own, I wouldn’t have chosen a handgun. Well, up to a few years ago I would have, but there’s a better alternative today: The Mossberg 590 Shockwave in 20 gauge.

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The Shockwave isn’t a shotgun; it isn’t a handgun; it’s not a gunthat requires registration as a NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934) firearm. It is simply classed as a firearm. In Michigan, under MCL 750.222(i) and (k), it is considered a long gun which I believe means you don’t need to get a purchase permit in Michigan.

At short ranges, (less than 50 yards) a shotgun is the most lethal firearm available to private citizens, bar none. Outside of a few specialized rifles designed for large or dangerous game, there is no firearm that is a one-shot man-stopper, but the shotgun comes close.

You bought the gun, it’s time you learned the realities of them.

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The whole purpose of defensive use of a firearm is not to kill somebody, it’s to make them stop attacking you. In fact, your right to use lethal force in self-defense ends the moment the assailant stops, either by surrendering, fleeing, or due to physical incapacitation. A law enforcement officer can legally shoot a fleeing felon; you can’t. The officer is allowed to do it because the officer is required by law to capture offenders; you have no such requirement.

One of the reasons that semiautomatic pistols have magazines that hold a lot of cartridges is that you might need a bunch of bullets on target to stop a determined assailant.

In Miami, Florida in 1986, FBI agents cornered two armed and dangerous criminals. A gunfight ensued. After it was over, an autopsy revealed that one of the criminals had been hit 22 times with bullets and some buckshot pellets from a 12 gauge shotgun. Despite the fact that the first hit produced a mortal wound, the criminal continued to fight and killed two federal agents before dying. Blood tests determined that the criminal was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

After the Miami shootout, the FBI began issuing .40 S&W semiautomatic pistols with larger-capacity magazines. Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. followed suit. They have since gone back to 9mm because their testing shows that the 9mm is as effective as the .40 S&W and holds more cartridges.

Incidentally, semiautomatic pistols with magazines holding more than ten rounds have been on the market since 1935. Semiautomatic rifles with similar magazines were first marketed to American hunters in 1911.

Despite a certain Presidential candidate’s inane blather, a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot or rifled slugs packs a major wallop — at both ends. It can produce painful bruising in even experienced shooters. As far as I can tell, the Presidential candidate’s experience has been with shells for skeet shooting. These are lightly loaded with small birdshot and and produce far less recoil than defensive loads.

Incidentally, you should also ignore his comments about shooting in the leg. Not only is it an extremely difficult target to hit, any shot in the groin area could puncture the femoral artery and the person would bleed out before medical assistance can arrive.

Anyway, back to the Shockwave. The Mossberg is the only firearm of this type that is offered in 20 gauge, which has much lower recoil while still offering most of the “benefits” of the larger 12 gauge. In addition, there is less felt recoil because it is not braced on the shoulder. It can be fired from the hip or raised to shoulder height for aiming (yes, you do have to aim it).

You can attach it to a single-point sling, keeping your hands free and allowing you to swing it into action if needed.

Plus, shotguns have an intimidation factor of their very own, which might reduce the need to actually use it. More than 90% of defensive gun uses don’t involve a single shot being fired and anything you can do to tilt the odds in that direction is worthwhile.

In addition, you may find that the Shockwave, loaded with birdshot, is useful on your farm. If you don’t already have rats, rest assured that you will. Rats are smart and they’re tough to kill but a load of birdshot will “out-tough” them. Dealing with the other varmints and critters looking to share your bounty is up to you, but rats are a real problem, both in the field and in the home. I speak from experience.

Last, but certainly not least, the Shockwave has a big advantage over a handgun when it comes to safety and controlling unauthorized access: It’s more than two feet long and you can secure it with either a trigger lock or a cable threaded through the action. They aren’t very concealable unless you have a penchant for dusters or long trenchcoats.

Shockwaves are in very short supply at the moment and likely will be for a while. The factory in Eagle Pass, Texas is running at max capacity now and I am sure Mossberg has thousands of backorders waiting to be filled. But on down the road, you might want to trade that pistol in for something that might give you a few advantages.

Sorry this ran so long, but there was a lot to be said and you need to realize that a lot of your perceptions about firearms are more fantasy than fact and a lot of what you hear and see is bullshit. De-mystify your gun; it’s just a tool. Think of how many objects are in a household that bad intent can turn into a lethal weapon. Own it, respect it, be responsible with it. The rest of the time, forget about it. And be glad you don’t live in Detroit. Or Chicago.

Professional writer. Passionately interested in facts. Founder of onewordtexas.org

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